The ballet of the good city [footpath] never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.
-Jane JacobsEmbed from Getty Images
The diversity of urban life lends itself to street ballet every minute every day. As diversity has a spectrum, so echoes the spectrum of the street ballet. The Meanwood ballet’s got nothing on the St Kilda’s ballet. And I would say St Kilda’s street ballet is akin to Venice Beach’s ballet. No destinations? No people. No people? No ballet. William H Whyte was right. People are attracted to people. In neighbourhoods, that means that there are places to see and be seen.
Lucia’s Neigbourhood by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek elucidates the manifold footpath improvisations occurring in one girl’s neighbourhood. Like Have you Seen my Dragon? or Footpath Flowers, a child walks through the neighbourhood. The intent here, however, is to give you a tour. From an early morning walk through the park, to the opening of the corner shops all the way through evening night markets, Lucia narrates the life of the people in her neighbourhood. She even lends cultural credo by talking about the Senhor Da Pedra festival where the street is decorated like Portugal. Lucia talks about porches, grandmas sitting in the sun, teenagers hanging out and the comings and goings of the tram driver. Illustrations are digitally rendered and are significantly replete with people.
Ankle biter 1 indulged me with this book. It’s not his thing. It encapsulates what he already lives. Honestly, he’d rather live it than read it. (And so he should). The problem with the tour concept is that for him, nothing happens. There’s no ‘adventure’ for him. (This book or this book provides ‘adventures’). It illustrates ‘community’ with all the people out and about but honestly, the static of the scenes doesn’t invite him to participate. Perhaps this will come back out when he’s ready to practice reading. Ahhhh for him to recognise the words ‘street ballet’, ‘neighborhood’ (even sans ‘u’) and porches.
I won’t lie. I ordered this week’s book right off the bat when I read that “seven-year-old-Lucia” was learning about Jane Jacobs. I should have read the title. It’s not blatantly about Jane; it’s about Lucia. This book, however, elucidates the type of neighbourhood that Jane would advocate. There is high movement and involvement among and between people due to the density, mixed neighbourhood uses and small street blocks. This is probably a cheeky primer for undergrads. For children, meh. Although this book is based on Montrose Avenue which has been internationally celebrated. Perhaps better as a moving piece rather than a static one?
Our street ballet usually involves dogs and small kids and sometimes a perusal of our library. Slowly the delight of the daily improv will radiate here. So what time is the street ballet? Depends. Who’s out on your street? What about your neighbourhood attracts other people?